A new poll released last week by Harvard declares that Millennials don’t support capitalism. The report states that “When 18- to 29-year-old young Americans were asked whether or not they support socialism, capitalism, and other political theories and labels, a majority reject both socialism and capitalism. Socialism is supported by 33% of young Americans, while capitalism is supported by 42%.”
We’ve seen Leftists of many stripes, from centrists to Marxists, denounce the present economic troubles, the 2008 recession, and the Mossack Fonesca scandal as being the fruit of an international capitalist order. Is this truly accurate? What’s the real meaning of capitalism?
Capitalism’s critics argue that it is a system which encourages greed and environmental exploitation. Workers’ rights are degraded. Furthermore, governments under capitalism are bought and paid for by powerful corporate interests.
However, free marketers mean something different when they use the word “capitalism.” They are referring to a system of free enterprise and private exchange, based upon the principle of private property and guarded by the rule of law. Government, in this view, is an umpire, ensuring that rules are obeyed and not using its power to pick winners.
Clearly, these ideas about capitalism are diametrically opposed. But the former is a system which is not favored by anyone who calls themselves a capitalist. Free market thinkers–including this writer–have long held that constant government intervention into business is a bad thing.
So do millennials actually support socialism over capitalism? We can’t tell. In fact, it’s not clear that the millennials who were polled by Harvard even have accurate knowledge of what capitalism is.
First, our cultural awareness surrounding capitalism has shifted drastically. One Harvard man who helped conduct the survey stated that, for those who grew up in the Cold War, capitalism was freedom from the Soviet Union. But for millennials, capitalism has come to mean financial crisis and global economic collapse. This may help to explain why the same report also reads that Sanders alone carries a positive rating among millennials: 54% of 18- to 29-year-olds viewed him favorably, while 31% viewed him unfavorably.
Second, this poll actually reflects a modestly positive view of capitalism. 42% of millennials surveyed support capitalism. This goes up to 52% among those most likely to vote, and then up 56% among those who have graduated college. This reflects the earlier results of a poll done by Reason-Rupe, which says that 42% of millennials favor socialism while 52% favor capitalism.
One further point from the Reason-Rupe survey suggests that millennials don’t understand what capitalism truly means: when asked whether favored a government-run economy or a free market economy, a remarkable 64% of respondents favored a free market economy.
It may be, then, that when Millennials actually learn what capitalism and socialism are, they will choose capitalism. Let us hope, then, that Sanders supporters will outgrow their naivete and embrace a perspective which is better rooted in the real world.